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Faculty: Staffing changes would hurt students

By Lindsay Mahaney
On January 16, 2013

 

Professors expressed concern at Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting about plans to cut part-time and visiting teaching positions, which they said would increase the load on full-time professors and make it harder to teach effectively.

Main Campus Provost Scott Scarborough, who helped shape the initiative, said at the meeting that it would help the university handle cuts in state funding and next year’s $36 million budget deficit.

Spanish professor Kathleen Thompson-Casado said students would not receive enough attention if class sizes increased.

“I’m tired of my students being crapped on,” Thompson-Casado said. “I was grading until Monday night with the classes I had last semester. OK, great, we’ve subsidized other parts of the university, but what about my students? What about the quality of education that they’re getting?”

Scarborough said with decreases in state funding, asking full-time professors to teach more would let the university save money by cutting part-time faculty members. It could also allow UT to replace fewer professors who retire. A large number of professors are retiring due to changes in Ohio retirement rules.

Faculty members said the proposal isn’t student-centered and presents academic limitations.

Linda Rouillard, vice president of Faculty Senate, said in an interview Saturday that “students will be severely disadvantaged” if the initiative goes forward.

“I believe it will seriously lower our enrollment,” Rouillard said. “Students are not going to come to overcrowded classrooms, students are not going to come to a campus where it will be harder and harder to contact their professors, to get extra help from their professors, or to work on special projects with their professors. I just don’t understand.”

Scarborough said in an interview Tuesday the initiative would result in more undergraduate classes taught by full-time professors, which would actually be better for students.

He said his philosophy is that “smaller classes are better, but only if the teacher is a very good one.”

“Class size is one little factor in the experience of education. Instructors and how they view their roles as facilitators is what really matters,” Scarborough said.

The proposal would also require class sections to have at least 30 students for undergraduate courses, 15 for graduate courses or 8 for doctoral courses.

Rouillard said the university’s graduate program would be “decimated” by those requirements.

Scarborough agreed that graduate-level courses were at the most risk of being eliminated.

“In staffing those very small graduate programs, it takes away resources from the undergraduate programs, which are the larger numbers of programs,” he said. “I think it will force some conversations and maybe ultimately lead to some narrowing of some degree program options that we have.”

Faculty Senate members said other cuts are affecting student-centeredness. Amy Thompson, associate professor in the department of rehabilitation services, said cuts to the Student Affairs office could affect retention rates.

“We are cutting so many student service positions like counseling,” Thompson said. “One of the biggest reasons we lose freshmen is because they have substance abuse issues. Our sexual assault position has not been replaced. These are huge retention issues and we’re cutting these positions.”

Political science professor Renee Heberle said the university also risks losing its reputation and student focus, saying the plan will “fundamentally change the character” of UT.

“I would suggest to you that it cannot work to standardize workload across a university of this complexity and this diversity and then claim that you are going to make exceptions for each individual or each department or each college,” she said.

Faculty members said administrators should look for other ways to cover the deficit.

Bio-engineering professor Patricia Relue said the university is “different and diverse” and should not be standardized.

“I am curious as to what the thought was when trying to … put us all in the same suit, as opposed to coming back to the colleges and saying, ‘Here is your budget, here is your expenses, can you come up with something that’s workable with the group that you have,’” Relue said.

Carter Wilson, a professor of political science, said there are other ways to fix the deficit. He said in recent years his department has been losing “more and more funding.”

“The problem is we’re trying to deal with this problem from a one-dimensional perspective,” Wilson said. “I think we need to look at some other alternatives for dealing with the budget problem, like possibilities of increasing enrollment and raising tuition.”

Scarborough said it is too early to know the results of the initiative.

“It’s going to force us to look and ask those questions,” Scarborough said. “That’s what the memo was intended to do, to create the conversation.”

Scarborough will attend the next Faculty Senate meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 29, to continue discussing the issue.

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